"Today's special flight demonstrates the next stage in the recovery of international travel is not far away."

By Alison Fox
April 07, 2021
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The first flight where passengers and crew were both fully-vaccinated flight took off on Tuesday from Qatar in a historical step towards the full return of air travel.

The flight, which took off on a Qatar Airways Airbus A350-1000 from Doha's Hamad International Airport at about 11 a.m. local time and returned to the city at 2 p.m., was a glimpse into a possible future. Every passenger and crew member was fully vaccinated along with the staff at check-in, according to the airline.

"Today's special flight demonstrates the next stage in the recovery of international travel is not far away," Akbar Al Baker, Qatar Airways Group chief executive, said in a statement, adding the flight provides "a beacon of hope for the future of international aviation."

On board, passengers were able to control the in-flight entertainment with their phones, in what Qatar Airways called a "zero-touch" experience, and received special amenity kits to mark the milestone flight.

"We know that this last year hasn't always been easy with many people unable to see their loved ones, often separated by distance," the captain told passengers just before takeoff in a video posted to Twitter. "Now 107 days after the first vaccine shipment arrived to the state of Qatar and 392 days after the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic, we are proud to be the first airline to operate a fully-vaccinated flight and we are honored to have you join us as part of the historical occasion."

In addition to the vaccinated flight, Qatar is trialing the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Travel Pass, a digital health pass aimed at making boarding with COVID-19-related paperwork a more seamless experience.

Al Baker told CNBC he sees vaccine passports as "helpful."

"I think this will be the trend initially, because the world needs to open people need to have confidence in the air travel," he said.

Qatar Airways plane
Credit: Soeren Stache/picture alliance via Getty Images

While vaccine passports have started to gain traction around the world — including in New York, which created its own digital health pass — White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said it would be something explored by the private sector in the United States, not the federal government.

"The government is not now, nor will we be supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential," Psaki told reporters during a White House briefing on Tuesday. "There will be no federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential."

Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. When she's not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.